Married for more than 10 years, monogamous, and with one or more children? Then Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon will strike a chord with you. Alice Buckle, who fits all the above criteria, is googling for “Happy Marriage” one day after a disastrous function at her husband’s company. So when an invitation to participate in a marriage survey shows up in her inbox, she jumps on it and becomes the “Wife 22” of the title: an anonymous wife answering random questions posed by “Researcher 101”.
The novel is dryly funny, from instances of family dysfunction to elementary school drama queens, sprinkled heavily with well-meaning, supportive and sometimes blunt friends and of course – the survey. While not exactly unhappy in her marriage, Alice is unable to ignore her own sense that her marriage is not a happy one. William, her husband, is attentive when he needs to be but the romance seems to have been lost somewhere along the line of having kids and careers. So she sees this survey as her chance to take stock, maybe get some advice, and to work out what her marriage might need to get back to “happy”.
As the survey progresses, Alice and Researcher 101 set up “anonymous” Facebook accounts so they can chat to each other outside the bounds of the survey. And then Alice’s life outside the survey starts to be affected. First her work (as drama teacher at the local primary school) and then her friendships start to suffer. Till finally, when a house guest from her past is forced upon her, she starts to wake up to what is happening and realises that she just has to meet her faceless Researcher – who seems keen also to meet her, despite his better judgement. The freedom that comes with complete honesty and that sense of unburdening herself in anonymity makes her become vulnerable to something that she, and it seems, Researcher 101, could not have predicted.
This novel is a witty, delightful, exploration of the institution of marriage – and of what makes it “happy”. For anyone who meets the survey criteria, it may also provide a bit of a lark as you can’t help but wonder what your answers might reveal about yourself. Alice’s survey answers pop up as random chapters – but without the questions, so it’s a great challenge to try to work out what could possibly be the reason for her responses. And honestly folks, who doesn’t love these kinds of surveys. The only thing better than doing them yourself is seeing someone else’s answers, right?
But if you really can’t handle the suspense, the questions are in the back of the book.
Available now: HarperCollins RRP$27.99